I realise that this post may be too-much-information for some, and sharing one’s birth experience publicly may not be something that others want to do. My experience of giving birth to Ella was overwhelmingly positive. Given how many horror stories are told about labour and birth, I wanted to provide a positive perspective which may be useful for other women to give them confidence that a drug-free, natural labour is entirely do-able. I found it really valuable to read/hear birth stories while I was pregnant (and I became somewhat addicted to One Born Every Minute!). But this definitely isn’t about boasting, or wanting kudos or sympathies. It’s not about comparing with others or pushing a particular approach. I understand that sometimes births get complicated and don’t go as a woman may have hoped/planned. And other women may seek a different experience for themselves. I think that any woman who has a baby is amazing, regardless of how they do it! This is simply intended to be a capture of my experience.
Kind of like a drunken night out, bits of it are blurry and kept coming back to me in the day or so after Ella was born! So, the story is a mixture of what I recollect, plus some details from Gill (our fabulous Canberra Midwifery Program midwife) and Jason (hubby)…
The short answer
When people ask me ‘so, how was your labour?’, my standard/short response is ‘it was really fine, we (Jason, Ella & I) just did it’. And that’s truly how I’d sum it up. This is often met with a surprised look, as I guess it’s much more common to hear the horror stories or at least comments about how tough it was. But the whole thing felt very calm and level – no blissful, orgasmic ecstasy (!), nor distress or agony. We just did what needed to be done. It was certainly hard work, but definitely positive and empowering.
People seem to cling onto times (and birth weight) as some kind of quantitative measure of labour ease/difficulty (which is odd given that time seems so irrelevant and elastic when you’re in it). It was about 21 hours after my water’s broke that established labour really begun. Then about 5 hours for the first stage, and almost 2 hours for the second (pushing). We went into the Birth Centre around 3am, Ella was born at 6.43am, and we were back home by 7pm that night. Ella was a healthy 3.29kg (7 pounds 4 ounces). Certainly not a whopper of a baby, but big enough!
The long answer (Ella’s birth story)
My waters broke at 2.30am on Wednesday 3 July. I couldn’t sleep on Tuesday night (which wasn’t uncommon for me in the last few weeks of pregnancy), so had been dozing on the couch, listening to a meditation. I was partially awake when I felt the gushing sensation (which was lucky, or else the leather couch may have come off second best!). At 4 days overdue I was excited that things were starting to happen! The fluid looked normal (clear) so I just put on a pad and tried to get some sleep as I knew we’d be in for a long day.
I rang my midwife, Gill, around 9am. Gill was finishing up at the Birth Centre on the Friday so I was especially pleased (and I think she was too) that she would get to meet bub and be our midwife for the birth. As I wasn’t experiencing any real contractions yet we arranged for me to go into the Birth Centre later in the afternoon for a trace on baby’s heartbeat. The day is a bit of a blur – I think I just tried to rest as much as possible – but I remember ringing Gill around 1pm as I must have been starting to feel stronger cramping and I think I was worried about how I’d go with the car trip to the hospital. In retrospect, I can see how amazing Gill was at reading my progress just by talking to me on the phone. She obviously knew that things were still at a very early stage and just encouraged me to stay at home, but call her back in an hour if the contractions were getting less manageable/more regular.
We went into the Birth Centre at 3pm and I remember mainly feeling sick and tired of the ickiness associated with the constantly leaking fluid. The trace looked good and an examination showed that my cervix had softened and I was 1-2cm dilated. In the couple of hours we were at the Birth Centre the contractions picked up a bit (mainly in my back) but were still short (20-30secs) and felt manageable, although I wondered where I was on the pain/intensity scale (was this a 2/10 and things were going to ramp up to 10/10 as they progressed?). Gill sent me home with some pain relief (Panadine Forte) and sleeping tablets to try to get some rest. If things hadn’t picked up by 7.30 the next morning I was to return to the hospital for antibiotics. But Gill seemed confident that we’d be seeing each other again during the night and I remember her saying something like ‘you may have a baby before sun-rise’.
The walk back from the Birth Centre to the car park was slow but probably good for me! With each contraction, I just breathed really deeply and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Surprisingly, I liked being in the car – the car seat seemed to envelope me and provided something that I could push against/sink into during contractions (and the indulgence of heated seats seemed to be a totally justifiable investment at that point!).
The next few hours at home I tried to rest through the contractions that were increasing in intensity. I just used heat packs and gently moaned my way through contractions (remembering from my yoga classes that noise = breath) while dozing on and off. Around 11pm/12am, things were picking up a bit and my husband, Jason, started timing contractions. They definitely increased in intensity when I stood up and moved around so I was tempted to keep crawling back into bed like I would with a belly ache, but I think Jason was keen to get things going and encouraged me to get up.
By 1am the cramping sensation that was previously mainly in my back was now in the front and I could feel something quite low in my pelvis. While Jason rang Gill, I rocked over the back of the couch, just continuing to moan through each contraction. I also vomited a couple of times – welcoming the temporary relief from the nausea.
After speaking to Gill (during which I had to hand the phone to Jason twice as I couldn’t speak through contractions), we decided to head into the Birth Centre around 2.30am. When we arrived I immediately and instinctively assumed a kneeling position on the bed – leaning over a foam wedge that Jason propped up from the other side. And I just kept moaning! Before hand I thought I might use counting (4 in, 8 out) but ended up just needing something more simple to focus on. All I’d do was try to make my moan as long as possible. I knew from yoga classes that if I just made my noise as long as possible – the breathing would be slow and deep and would largely take care of itself. I have no idea where it came from, but the mental image I had was of a white streamer coming out of my mouth. As I moaned, I visualised the length of the streamer and my goal was just to make the streamer as long as possible. Occasionally at the start of a contraction I’d think about whether I should ask for pain relief, but then I’d just tell that part of my brain to butt out and get back to focusing on that streamer! I had so much trust in my body to do what it needed to do – I just needed to keep my interfering mind occupied so it stayed out of the way! I also think I lacked the energy to think about/do anything other than kneel and moan. When Gill asked if I wanted to use the bath, I remember replying ‘I don’t know’ a couple of times – it was just too much for me to think about.
I had vomited for a third time on the car ride in so Gill gave me some medication to calm the nausea. It seemed to work quickly as I don’t recall feeling nauseous again, but kept the sick bag close as a bit of a security blanket!
I thought I was being really noisy with all my moaning (and sorry for anyone staying overnight with a new baby in the Birth Centre), but Jason & Gill told me afterwards that I wasn’t – in fact Jason said that between contractions it was completely silent – so I must have been calmer than I thought!
At around 4.50am I felt the sensation of pressure in my bottom so asked Jason to quickly tell Gill who was out of the room at that moment. She came in and did an examination – I was fully dilated and ready to start pushing whenever I felt the urge. The second stage took close to two hours, but through out I just went with the sensations in my body and made whatever noise came naturally (I think there was more grunting than moaning at this stage!). At one point there wasn’t a lot of progress being made and the baby’s head was slipping back between contractions, so Gill suggested I stand for a few contractions. This simple change in position got things going again (and gave my knees a rest!).
One of the most valuable things I got from yoga class was a simple list of sensations that would be experienced in labour (cramping, tightening, stretching, pressure, burning). Each time I felt a new sensation I just mentally reconciled it against the list (‘ahh, this must be what Vedanta meant when she talked about pressure’) and knew everything was okay. I didn’t need to over-analyse or try to figure out what my body was doing. I knew that everything was going as it was meant to and I trusted Gill to keep an eye on things and let me know if there was anything I really did need to worry about! I think that Gill (& Jason) trusted me too – I was really left to do what I needed to do without interference or pressure.
Just before the baby’s head started crowning I started speaking out-loud – just saying ‘I can do this’ over and over again. This was pretty much the only time I spoke during labour (except to ask for a drink or wet face-washer) and again it was just something that came naturally and I went with it.
Ella was born at 6.43am on Thursday 4 July (just before sun-rise as Gill predicted) with just Gill and Jason present. I remember looking down between my legs to see this little squirmy thing lying in the bed. I was pretty sure it was a girl, but things were such a blur and I didn’t know if I was overlooking something, that I asked Gill to check! Jason and Gill helped me to sit back in bed while I held Ella against my stomach (the cord was too short to reach my chest) and we just cuddled while Gill clamped and cut the cord and delivered the placenta (with some gentle traction from her and pushes by me). I had some tearing which needed stitching – this was pretty uncomfortable – but again, I just used my moaning/breathing technique to get through it.
Jason was awesome throughout the whole thing. The most important thing for me was that he was this lovely, practical, encouraging, calming influence. He listened to me and responded quickly and sensitively to my cues (both explicit and implicit). In terms of what he did once we got to hospital – it was really just sitting at the end of the bed propping up the foam wedge, and passing me a drink and wet face washer as I needed it! But most importantly I just needed him to be present there with me. Neither of us got anxious or stressed – and I think that was really important as we were probably picking up on each other’s state of mind.
We bought Ella home later that day and are all adjusting to life as a family (and the sleep-deprivation associated with having a new born)! My body has bounced back surprisingly well – my stomach has shrunk and the stitches have healed well and were only sore for a couple of days. I now have a very deep love and respect for my body and what it’s capable of (sure, I’d still like some bits to be a bit smaller or less squishy – but I’m much more accepting and respectful).
I feel lucky that it was all so straight-forward and there were no complications that increased the need for intervention, pleased about the preparation I did, and proud that we were able to put it into practice. While I wouldn’t quite describe my birth experience as enjoyable (it’s a lot of hard work and quite uncomfortable at times!), it was most definitely one of the most positive and empowering experiences of my life. It was really such a calm and stress-free experience for both Jason and I. I don’t recall either of us getting anxious at all and we’ll both take away very positive memories of Ella’s arrival.
A few things that definitely helped to prepare me & Jason…
- Pre-natal yoga with Vedanta at YogaNatal – I consider this to be the single most important preparation that I did and I’d recommend Vedanta’s classes to any pregnant woman in Canberra. When I initially enrolled in the class having never done any yoga before, I thought it would be good physical preparation for labour, but hadn’t realised how important it would be in preparing me mentally and emotionally. I usually spend a lot of time in my head (I tend to over-think and seek to understand things at an intellectual level), so the classes were so important for me in getting to a place where I had complete trust in my body.
- Attending a Calmbirth course with Peter Jackson – While there wasn’t too much new learning for us at this course (I felt familiar with much of the content as a result of the pre-natal yoga classes) it was a good opportunity to reinforce some of the concepts and connect as a family. Afterwards, I really felt that labour/birth was a team undertaking (with Jason & Ella) rather than something that was just mine to go through.
- Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills – This book has some great and very practical suggestions for tools and techniques that can be used in labour. I really didn’t end up using many of the techniques, but felt confident having such a large toolkit to draw from.
- The Canberra Midwifery Program model of care – I can’t rave enough about the Birth Centre and the wonderful care we received from Gill (antenatally and during labour) and Karli (post-natally). Seeing the same midwife throughout my pregnancy was great as it allowed us to get to know Gill and to develop much trust in and respect for her experience, and for her to get to know us and our preferences. It’s really only retrospectively that I realise how important that trust for your caregiver is and how vital it was for ensuring a positive experience – not only for me, but for Jason too. I’d never really thought much before about what midwives actually do – but now I think they’re absolutely incredible!